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'No excuse': New Yorkers as young as 16 seek return to normal with COVID-19 vaccine

Speaking at the Javits Center in Manhattan on

Speaking at the Javits Center in Manhattan on Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said with everyone 16 and older now eligible, there's no excuse not to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: NY Governor's Office

This story was reported by Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Scott Eidler, Joan Gralla, Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. It was written by Jones.

New Yorkers as young as 16 were able to start booking vaccine appointments, and some even got COVID-19 shots on Tuesday, as students at Stony Brook University and other locations rushed to get inoculated.

The university injected shots into nearly one-third of its residential students on the first day, getting needles into the arms of 1,400 of the 4,500 students who live on campus, said Rick Gatteau, the university’s vice president for student affairs.

All of the available spots for shots were grabbed in less than two hours, and another 400 to 500 students expressed interest in getting an appointment, he said.

Miguel Luis Facundo, 19, a sophomore studying biology, said he felt like he "won the lottery" when he obtained a vaccination appointment. Facundo’s mother and grandfather, neither of whom are yet vaccinated, are returning to New York soon from the Philippines.

"My grandfather is my only grandparent left, so being around him and making sure I feel safe is a big deal," he said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, speaking at the Javits Center in Manhattan, launched a "Vaccinate NY" campaign and urged people to get the injections.

"Today, every person in the State of New York over 16 years old is eligible for the vaccine. There is no excuse, no excuse, not to go online, make a phone call today, make your appointment, get your vaccination done," Cuomo said, as National Guard members stood behind him.

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New Yorkers can get either of three vaccines: the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna formulations require two doses given weeks apart, while the Johnson & Johnson is complete with one shot. Those 16 and 17 have to take the Pfizer vaccine.

"It is your duty. It's smart. It's right. It's easy. It's fast. It's safe. Get a vaccine, New York. No excuses," Cuomo said.

Looking to go back to normal

At Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, three teenagers did just that at a news conference, publicly demonstrating their confidence in the vaccine and optimism for a post-coronavirus future.

"I’m ready to go anywhere," Paul Navarro, 17, a senior at Henry Viscardi School in Albertson, told reporters at the event staged by Northwell Health.

"It will be safe for everyone: It will make us go back to normal," said Navarro, who captains his high school wheelchair team. He has spina bifida and hydrocephalus and is a disability ambassador at his school.

Briana Justice, 16, a student at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in Brooklyn who has sickle cell anemia, described how much harder it has been for families to stay close, especially if they lack reliable internet service. "This is a very important step to a virus-free future," she said.

Dr. Charles Schleien, senior vice president and chairman of pediatrics for Northwell Health and Cohen Children’s Medical Center, noted the toll the pandemic has exacted on families, saying: "Kids want to participate and do their part."

He said that even children with underlying health conditions can be safely vaccinated against COVID-19: "We are saying they all should receive this very important vaccine," he said.

At Stony Brook, where about 60% of students live on campus, Gatteau said "the data shows that when you live in closer proximity to one another, there is more risk. It was a logical decision to vaccinate residents first, but commuter students will have access to vaccines by next week."

With spring classes scheduled to end May 7 — and the students set to get their second dose May 3 — future Stony Brook vaccination pods will rely on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Vineeta Abraham, 19, a sophomore studying psychology, said she and her mother contracted COVID-19 last year. Getting vaccinated will provide Abraham with a sense of stability and protection.

"Everyone has been really scared," she said. "But now we are getting to this place where we are getting better. We are working harder and coming together collaboratively. And I want to be part of this effort."

Since in-person classes at Stony Brook resumed, residential students have been tested twice a week while commuters are tested once a week — with infections remaining at less than 1%, university officials said.

Kaitlyn Vosswinkel, 18, a freshman pre-nursing student, said she and her entire family contracted the virus in March 2020. Though they all recovered, the experience has heightened her awareness of its risks.

"It’s important to get vaccinated because you don’t know who you are going to run across and their severity with the risks," she said. "If I get vaccinated, I am a lot more protected and I am protecting the people around me."

Jessica Coacci, 20, a senior and journalism major, said she got her first shot to protect herself and her family.

"I hope people see it and feel more comfortable getting vaccinated and we get back to a life of semi-normalcy," Coacci said.

Nassau to vaccinate homebound seniors

Nassau County officials on Tuesday announced they are accelerating efforts to vaccinate homebound seniors.

The expansion in eligibility comes as the state and its municipalities continue to receive more doses as part of a federal push to inoculate more people sooner.

The county's police medics will help administer the new program for seniors, which is expected to start next week, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said.

"We want to make sure that we're vaccinating the folks who are at their homes who cannot get out, so with incoming supply to the county now, of Johnson & Johnson vaccine, to our Department of Health, we're going to ramp up our effort to vaccinate homebound residents," Curran said.

Curran called on the state to loosen restrictions for entertainment and arts venues, and said the county was ready to "swiftly" meet demand as the new, younger group of people became eligible.

County officials said about 40% of Nassau's population, or 54% of all adults, has received at least one dose of the vaccine. The state's vaccine tracker put Suffolk County's vaccination level at about 33% on Monday.

Cuomo has been quickly dropping the age limit, which last week was lowered to include people 30 and older. Even though the number of vaccinations is increasing rapidly, the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 and levels of positivity in testing for the virus stubbornly remain at a plateau, according to state data.

The state reported a positivity rate of 4.33% from 132,864 test results on Monday, with a 3.57% positivity level over the last seven days.

Long Island’s positivity tracked at 4.34% over the seven-day period. Nassau reported 505 new positives while Suffolk had 576, both figures from Monday.

The number of deaths from coronavirus-related causes in the state increased by 47 — including two deaths in Suffolk and three in Nassau. The state’s death tally has reached 40,861 since the start of the pandemic.

Tom D'Angelo, who runs home infusion pharmacy Americare in Garden City South and Franklin Square Pharmacy in Franklin Square, said he’s hearing from more people each day as vaccine eligibility expands.

He said, however, he doesn’t have enough vaccine to satisfy demand.

"I have a list a mile long, and for first doses, I received 100 doses of Johnson & Johnson," D’Angelo said. "That’s it. I’ve requested more. We want to service the community, but we aren’t getting enough vaccine. What we received is spoken for."

Nidhin Mohan, who owns New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park and is the co-owner of West Islip Pharmacy in West Islip, said "the phone calls are relentless, but I’m waiting for official word that we can vaccinate everyone."

Mohan added he’s expecting some vaccine doses to be sent to him this week.

Nassau County on Tuesday also opened a pop-up vaccination site at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck.

"Unfortunately, there's still a lot of reluctance in the communities to be vaccinated amongst some of the population," temple president Gary Slobin said. "The best way to combat that is to bring the shots into the communities, and that's what we're doing here today."

On encouraging people to get the shots, Curran said that "when it comes in a faith-based way from your faith leaders, it really does help get the message across that this is trustworthy, it's effective, and it's safe."

NYC expanding vaccine outreach

New York City is adding nearly six times more walk-in vaccination sites for residents 75 and older — growing to 25 sites from the current three, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

The three sites had been part of a pilot over the past few days, and the expanded sites will be located citywide. Some slots will be set aside for those who have trouble making appointments online or by telephone.

The city is working toward the goal of fully vaccinating 5 million people by June.

De Blasio said the "one-and-done" Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be given to homeless people, immigrants living in the country illegally and others who are hardest to reach. "We need to make sure, when we do reach them, that the single dose gets the whole job done," he said.

He also announced that a mobile vaccination bus will begin touring the city, starting Wednesday in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, to reach food service workers.

The bus, which is also equipped with a lift to serve disabled people, can help vaccinate about 200 people a day, said Dr. Ted Long, a city official helping to lead the coronavirus response.

GETTING COVID-19 VACCINES IN NY

Who qualifies for COVID-19 shots?

The State of New York has expended its eligibility list for vaccines against COVID-19 several times, expanding the groups of people included in the phases. This is a summary of the eligible groups. The following are the qualifying categories, as revised on March 29.

Group in Phase 1A

The state said about 2.1 million state residents belong in this group, including:

  • Health care workers at hospitals who interact with patients.
  • Residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • Dentists, psychologists and others deemed health care workers with direct contact with patients.
  • Employees of Federally Qualified Health Centers.
  • EMT volunteers and staff.
  • Coroners, medical examiners, some funeral workers.
  • Staff and residents of state facilities for people with developmental disabilities, mental health care and addiction services.
  • Employees at urgent care centers.
  • Individuals administering COVID-19 vaccines, including local health department staff.
  • Staff at ambulatory centers.
  • Home care and hospice workers.
  • Residents and staff at other congregate care facilities.

Group in Phase 1B

The state estimated about 3.2 million residents belong in this group, including:

  • People 75 years of age and older.
  • Teachers and education workers, including in-person college instructors, substitute teachers, student teachers, school administrators, paraprofessional staff, support staff, contractors in schools and bus drivers.
  • First responders, including police; firefighters; state police; sheriff’s offices; county, town and village police departments, and other law enforcement offices.
  • Public safety workers, including dispatchers and technicians.
  • Public transit workers, including airport, railroad, subway, bus, ferry and Port Authority employees.
  • Corrections officers.
  • Other sworn and civilian personnel, such as court and peace officers.
  • Grocery store workers dealing with the public.
  • Individuals living in homeless shelters.

Following federal recommendations:

Added at the discretion of local governments:

  • Taxi drivers.
  • Restaurant workers.
  • Residents of facilities for developmentally disabled people.
  • Hotel workers who interact with the public.

Other expansions of eligibility:

  • State residents age 60 and older (Since March 10, 2021).
  • “Public-facing” government and public employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Workers for not-for-profit organizations who provide “public-facing” services (Since March 17, 2021).
  • Building service workers who are “public-facing” employees (Since March 17, 2021).
  • State residents age 50 and older (Since March 23, 2021).

Since March 30, 2021:

Since April 6, 2021:

SOURCE: New York State, Northwell Health.

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